Ray North has written eloquently in the past about the potentially devastating consequences of the government’s proposals to radically reduce funding for the criminal justice system He has rightly described how this will inevitably result in more miscarriages of justice and indeed more of the guilty walking free, as skilled advocates exit the profession because it is no longer financially viable. All of this adds up to a picture of Chris Grayling being the worst Lord Chancellor of the modern era – it is perhaps no surprise that he is also the first non-lawyer to hold the post, given that he appears not even to grasp the basics of the rule of law.
However, Grayling’s assault on the criminal justice system, is not the subject matter of this post. The subject matter of this post is rather Grayling’s barbaric decision to prevent prisoners from receiving books from outside. You can tell that this policy has been designed only to attract a cheap headline or two from the right wing press because the government can’t even get its story straight as to its purpose. Grayling claimed it was part of a new ‘spartan’ regime where rewards had to be earned within the prison system; whereas Jeremy Wright, the prisons minster claimed it was a security precaution to prevent drugs being smuggled in to prison. It is said that they can still use prison libraries – but these are often poorly stocked and over subscribed.
The irony is that Grayling in seeking to get his cheap positive headline as a hardman of the right giving no truck to the lags inside, has even managed to outrage the Daily Mail with this policy. Even that nasty rag can see the good sense in prisoners being able to read while inside – that at worst this is a helpful distraction to tide over the long hours inside, and at best is a positive part of rehabilitation through education.
As ever there has not been even the slightest of peeps out of the Lib Dems on this, even though had this happened when they were in opposition they would have been the loudest voices condemning it. Of course, if they had ever given a shit about it, they could have stopped it before it even happened.
Also, as we have seen before with this arrogant government and in particular with its least competent ministers (amongst which Grayling and IDS must be battling it out for the top spot), any criticism of a policy just leads to doubling down. And the criticism of this policy has been deafening – extending to right wing commentators like Iain Dale and Tim Shipman of the Mail. Lord Ashcroft has also tweeted his opposition to it.
Preventing prisoners from accessing books is a new low from a government that you already thought had reached rock bottom. It is a vindictive political stunt that didn’t even garner the positive headlines it was intended to achieve. Will Grayling back down? Of course, not. He represents everything wrong with modern conservatism – shallow, stupid and cruel.